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Feature Story December 13, 2001
 
Operation Enduring Sovok
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 4 of 7
 
This is why the sovok cannot be prevented from giving advice. There is no place to stop in a circle.

Some other characteristics of sovok:

2) Inexplicability and intractability.

The sovok is an animal that can annoy you with a dizzying array of weapons: envy, nosiness, verbal restlessness, exaggerated hospitality. But his lead punch is his inexplicability. You can combat what you can explain, but the sovok eludes counterattack because he very often makes no sense at all -- and then won't budge from his spot no matter how hard you push.

The best place to see this is in the area of sovok architecture and interior design. This is the best place because these professions put the sovok's premeditated illogic on display.

Take the classic design of the Soviet food produce store, with its attendant kassa system. Taken separately, each of the characteristics of the system make a kind of sense. All the food products are behind counters, inaccessible to the shopper, because they might be stolen otherwise. The cash registers for each section are kept separate so that it is easier to keep track of sales in each section. Then the cash registers are kept separate from the sections they belong to, to make theft on the part of the staff more difficult -- theoretically. Whatever the rationale behind all of this, the result is a system in which you must make six or seven separate purchases in each trip to the store, keeping complex sets of figures in your head in between trips to each counter and cashier, inciting rage and impatience from the always-overweight salesladies at each step -- all of which certainly cost the state and even the store network system itself more in aggravation and man-hours than it could ever have possibly lost due to theft.

There is no place in Russia that sets off the sovok Geiger counter more reliably than the area around a free-standing kassa in a food produce store. Some of the world's purest human hatred and incoherence is on display every single day in the earshot range around these little misery-cages containing the cashiers.

"Girl, give me 120 rubles at section five."

"For what?"

"Doctorskaya Kielbasa."

"Doktorskaya Kielbasa is section four. Next kassa."

"But it's under the sign for section fiv -- "

"NEXT KASSA, I SAID!"

The kassa system does not make logical sense, but it does make sense in terms of sovok. The sovok will go to a 7th Continent and sincerely miss the Meat-Fish kassa-hell-hole on his corner on Kashirskoye Shosse. He'll look at the pre-sliced shrink-wrapped meats and think to himself that fat-fisted Svetlana Viktorevna of section 6 (meat), who he was loudly calling a suka yebuchaya just that morning, makes the cleanest cuts of steak in the entire world, that nothing beats a Svetlana Viktorevna steak.

Life to the sovok is emptier without the intense human interaction around the kassa. This is why modern check-out counters seem inhuman to him.

Vladimir Putin's Moscow is steadily filling up with Western-style check out counters. It is easier to imagine him shopping at one of those than at Meat-Fish #6.

3) Filth

There's something about sovok: it can never quite get clean. When it polishes and lacquers a wood floor, it always leaves bubbles and skewed angles. Its hair is always disheveled. It decorates itself in the colors of dirt and seaweed.

This is another striking anti-sovok characteristic of Vladimir Putin. He is obviously a naturally clean person. He exudes fastidiousness and hygiene. In this he is, again, set apart from Russia's former leaders.

In all of Russia's history since the revolution there has only been one leader who approached Putin's level of personal cleanliness: Vladimir Lenin. But Lenin was a bourgeois pre-sovok. He took hikes in mountains and felt at home in Switzerland. He didn't have the chance to really live in the sovok world he created, and it certainly didn't affect his upbringing.

Sovok really began with Stalin. Stalin's outward appearance was manicured, but one gets the impression of barely-restrained odors and hairs. That helmet of waxed hair must have raised the surface temperature of his scalp to uncomfortable levels. His mustache undoubtedly stank. And Stalin's survived to an age and a level of relative leisure in which his inner corruption began to pollute his appearance. Lenin never had that luxury: he died before he rotted from within.


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